“Comparison is the death of joy.” ― Mark Twain
The thief of joy, if Mark Twain is right, is of our own making.
The good news in this revelation reveals each of us can take back our joy.
Comparing ourselves to others occurs consciously and unconsciously. Consciously, we may be acutely aware that we follow certain people on social media to see how we are doing in relation; unconsciously, when we choose not to speak up to set a boundary, when we set a checklist for our life delineating what should happen by what age, we are actually prompted by external comparison.
Each of these three are examples of many more of unhelpful comparison, and while comparison is a primal instinct for survival, the good news is evolution and civil society have provided the opportunity and arguably the necessity for each of us of to offer the world our unique talents rather than limiting ourselves to remain part of the herd or tribe.
The habit of comparison is a learned skill, and therefore, it can be unlearned; however, it must be a conscious choice to do so. Fundamentally, when we compare ourselves with others, some part of us believes we are not enough or needs to be reassured that we are enough just as we are.
Today, I will be examining five areas of our lives in which comparison can creep in and become destructive to our contentment and ability to live a fulfilling life, and then share how to let go of such comparing with the outside world.
Life Goals, Your Journey
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
Brené Brown’s quote above speaks beautifully to the need for us to let go of the timeline checklist we may have put in place for our lives. This is not to persuade you to let go of setting goals, but rather to examine who such goals are actually for. Who benefits? If the outcome enables you to be accepted by a particular group in your personal life or society, then this item is a checklist item that is being attended to out of comparison; however, if the outcome fulfills something within you that enables you to exercise your talents more fully and share them with the world, then such a checklist item is a keeper.
Social Environment — Who Surrounds You?
“Nobody at your table should inherit a seat, be there by accident or simply have a place because of the time you have known each other or because they are popular with others.”
—Lucy Sheridan, The Comparison Cure
A significant reason it can be extremely difficult to be ourselves with and around others has to do with who the “others” are.
From my own experience, one reason I thoroughly enjoy living on my own and my own company has to do with only needing permission from myself to be and do what comes naturally or piques my curioisity without worrying what others think. However, that “worry” sprung out of life experience when I was myself around others.
As young children, we did not know that doing something that was naturally part of who we were or innately drew our interest that prompted dismissal, scorn or laughing to tease and suppress was a reflection of an unhealthy relationship, not a reflection of doing something “wrong”. And so we shifted. We edited. We adapted.
Now we are adults. Now we know more and we can return to embracing who we are and have always been, even though we may have kept it under wraps or hidden away for fear of laughter, teasing or dismissal (again, all conditioned fears based on our past experience). Where do we begin? Setting boundaries.
In episode #126, boundaries are discussed in detail. The reason to establish your personal boundaries is because when we don’t, “we give away our time, effort, the potential for fun and creativity” as Lucy Sheridan reminds in her book The Comparison Cure. When thought about through that lens, motivation to set boundaries becomes easier.
If you too are someone who finds comfort in your own company, however, wants to welcome people into your life yet fears being unable to be yourself if you do so, be patient with yourself, build the skill of setting boundaries, and when you do, you will begin to meet and then know with confidence who you can welcome into your life so that you can continue to be fully yourself.
Setting boundaries will reveal underlying truths of all of your relationships – who respects and understands, who pushes back, why they were friends or built a relationship with you in the first place. In other words, your social community may shift, but it will shift for the better, opening up room for the right people to enter.
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” – Ru Paul
On the other side of comparing yourself with others is accepting and appreciating where you are in the present moment as well as appreciating and accepting where others are in the same present moment.
When we look outside of ourselves for validation – how should I be dressing (trends, etc.), what should my home look like?, when should I be getting married?, should I marry?, what day of the week is it okay to go to bed early?(this one may sound silly, but when we apologize to others or tease ourselves for habits we love – i.e. going to bed early – we are invalidating our choices) – we have not found contentment with ourselves from within ourselves. We are instead asking the outside world to tell us we are “okay”. Such seeking is not loving and is not an acceptance of ourselves.
This habit of seeking outside validation makes it extremely difficult to accept others as they are if they don’t “fit in” to our expectations of what they “should be” and “should do”, which makes it difficult to build loving, respectful and secure relationships.
I cannot recommend more highly this book for improving our ability to be more loving to ourselves and thereby be able to be a healthy partner in a relationship – How to Be An Adult in Relationships. I will be exploring more of the topics shared in this book in upcoming episodes.
Everyday Life – Contentment
“Comparison with myself brings improvement, comparison with others brings discontent.”
– Betty Jamie Chung
In 2012 I shared this post about competing with others which reiterates the quote above. Comparison with others is a form of competition with others, and it drains, it exhausts, it depletes, it is never a positive effect on our lives.
Even in sports, you can only do your best, even though technically you are on the field/court/stage “competing” with others. However, it doesn’t matter what they do. It is your engagement to present your full capabilities that will determine the outcome. Be motivated to improve upon yourself, but do not denigrate yourself for areas you wish to strengthen.
The component that must be present in order to compare only with ourselves and not the outside world is a strong self-confidence. In episode #5 of the podcast, confidence and the strength it brings into our lives is explored. Just as comparison is a learned skill, acquiring and attaining self-confidence is a skill as well – a skill worth acquiring for a contented life.
However, once we have acquired self-confidence, we must not stop exercising it as it will atrophy. Our lives change, new experiences arise and therefore, we are challenged to navigate well through each of the events and engagements with others. Our self-confidence will be challenged and questioned within our own minds, thus why we must exercise it as though it were a muscle, because in many ways it is.
First of all, as Lucy Sheridan points out, “self-confidence is a key step in ridding your life of comparison as it gives you agency over your actions and ownership of your thoughts and behavior”.
What happens when we don’t have self-confidence?
- Words go unsaid – speaking up for ourselves, sharing ideas, setting boundaries
- Ideas go undeveloped and brought to fruition
- The finite time we have is spent on the wrong priorities, with the wrong people
How to exercise self-confidence, as shared in The Comparison Cure:
Strengthening Your Self-Worth
“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
– Dolly Parton
Each of us is born with self-worth and possesses it our entire lives; however, we often lose track of this truth along our life journey at some point. Let this be your reminder, you innately possess self-worth. Nobody can take that away from you.
Simply put, “Having self-worth is knowing who you are and being okay with it. It’s the result of deep inner work, increased self-care, self-love and self-acceptance.” Lucy Sheridan goes on to say, “Note that possessing self-worth does not necessarily mean having to reach and retain a constant sense of joyful ecstasy, but it is at least a gentle, palpable appreciation.” As I describe it, knowing you have self-worth, consciously knowing this truth, is to bring the ability to be content in your everyday life. It is a grounding, and it enables your self-confidence to come forth in all that you do and in each interaction that you have in a calmly powerful way.
For a detailed post on how to strengthen your self-worth, read this post which shares 10 ways to do just that.
Living a life free of comparison with the outside world becomes a habit after a conscious decision to make it so. A few simple ways to consciously start letting go of comparison in your personal and work life:
- Become selective about who you follow on social media – follow for inspiration, information, heart-warming, positively challenge you, healthy entertainment and pique curiosity to boost quality of life
- Don’t feel compelled or required to follow your friends or family online – you can be a good friend and family member off-line. Let them have their space to be them which may help you reduce the urge to compare.
- Let go of perfection
- Put an out of office message on at all times – tailor to your profession, but this immediately establishes boundaries of your work time and manages expectations in our culture of immediacy.
- Check emails two times a day for an allotted amount of time and abide by it – the inbox will never be zero. Create a labeling/flagging system for yourself that alerts you to emails you need to address, set up a “folder system” that provides a space to put emails you do not want to erase. Your “out of office message” will provide the space and time to respond properly and effectively on your schedule.
- Surround yourself with people and situations that curate an environment that enables you to thrive, grow, be challenged as a way of growing, and give back.
- Become comfortable with saying No. Time is finite, so become clear about what you can do, need to do and want to make time so that you can do.
The work of letting go of comparison is a practice in making space for a life of deep contentment and fulfillment. It is a life that will resonate most strongly with you and may not make sense to others, but those who love you, with whom you have communicated powerfully, yet respectfully with along the way, will be there to share it with you and their lives with you. Free of comparison and full of celebration and appreciation.
~The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (book #1, 2017)
~The Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell (book #2, 2020)
~Seven Kinds of People You Find in a Book Store by Shaun Bythell (November 10, 2020)
~Check out Shaun Bythell’s YouTube channel (I’ve included one video below)
~Follow Shaun on Instagram after reading the books to continue enjoying the daily pondering from a Bookseller.
~Beginning on October 1, 2020, a significant change and much anticipated improvements in engagement will be coming to TSLL blog. Only subscribers will be able to view more than five posts a month along with other exclusive content (Shannon’s Home & Garden Tours, Giveaways, Saturday Ponderings, etc.). Learn all about TSLL’s Soft Paywall here.